In Galway, we are fortunate to have such a rich natural heritage, much of it relatively unspoilt. Galway is such a large county that it contains a whole range of rare and valuable wildlife habitats ranging from the raised bogs and turloughs in the east to the sand dunes and blanket bogs in the west, from the limestone grasslands of the Burren to the granite grasslands of Connemara.
Some of the main habitats of interest in County Galway are described here.
The Galway coastline encompasses the entire western border of County Galway (approx. 2000km in total) from Aughinish Bay to Killary harbour as well as the Aran Islands, Inishbofin and several small uninhabited islands around coast . There are many different types of coastal habitats including: habitats below the high tide line: shore – mud flats, sand flats, and gravel and shingle beaches;habitats subject to periodic inundation by sea water including salt marshes and lagoons;
terrestrial coastal habitats: sea cliffs, sand dunes, machair. Many of these habitats are internationally important for nature conservation and several support important bird colonies and fish nursery grounds around the Galway coast.
Semi-natural grassland habitats that are not highly modified or improved for agriculture are becoming increasingly rare in the modern Irish landscape. They are characterised by a diversity of grass and sedge species and rushes in wet areas with a high proportion of broad-leaved herbs (wildflowers).
Calcareous grasslands are found especially around the Burren region of South Galway, the Aran Islands and around Lough Corrib and on Esker ridges in the east and north of county. Wet grasslands occur all over the county, especially in Connemara but important sites include flood plains (callows) of the Shannon and Suck Rivers. Many road verges and graveyards also have flower-rich grassy habitats akin to hay meadows.
Hedgerows are linear habitats of trees, shrubs and ground flora associated with field boundaries and roadsides. There are an estimated 23,000km network of hedges in Co Galway with most of these concentrated in the east of the county. Hedgerows are very important habitats for wildlife. They support several birds, small mammals and invertebrates and a huge diversity of plant species. Hedges also function as ecological corridors to facilitate movement of plants and animals through the landscape.
Limestone pavement is an internationally important habitat found almost exclusively in Counties Galway, Clare and Mayo. It consists of exposed areas of limestone bedrock that has been fissured, broken or weathered to produce characteristic ‘clint and gryke’ features. Pockets of thin soil around the rocks support ferns, flowers and low shrubs. It is found in the Burren region of South Galway, the Aran Islands and in isolated patches between Kilcolgan and Tuam and around the shores of Lough Corrib.
Peatland are wetlands where the substrate is predominantly peat including bogs which are fed by rain and fens which are fed by ground or surface water. Actively growing, intact raised bog is an extremely rare habitat. Irish raised bogs are of international importance representing 50% of all the conservation-worthy raised bogs remaining in Europe. Most have some damage due to harvesting of peat or agriculture. In County Galway, Upland blanket bog is found in mountainous regions and Lowland/Atlantic blanket bog is found in the Connemara lowlands and coastal areas. Raised bogs are found in the lowlands of north and east County Galway
A variety of freshwater habitats are found throughout County Galway including lakes, ponds, turloughs
streams, rivers, canals, springs and flushes. Freshwater habitats are extremely important for the communities of plants and animals they support. Most of our freshwater habitats are relatively good quality and unpolluted which is important for many rare and important species such as Pollan, Arctic Char, Atlantic Salmon, Sea Lamprey, Brook Lamprey, White-clawed Crayfish, Freshwater Pearl Mussel and Otter all of which require very high water quality.
Turloughs are seasonal lakes of limestone regions. Fed by groundwater through swallow holes, they support distinctive plant and animal communities characteristic for their flooding regime. Turloughs are an internationally important habitat almost unique to the west of Ireland in Counties Clare, Galway, Mayo and Roscommon. In Galway, turloughs are found mainly in the Burren region of South Galway and lowlands of north-east Co. Galway. Many turloughs are very important for rare plants and animals including over-wintering birds such as the Whooper Swan and rare invertebrates which only occur in turloughs such as the Fairy Shrimp.
Semi-natural woodland is dominated by native, broadleaf trees or native conifers (Yew, Scots pine, Juniper). It includes scrub woodland dominated by hazel or other scrub; riparian woodland close to waterways; wet woodland in wetland areas and some demesne woodlands. Significant areas of oak-birch-holly woodland occur around Woodford. An extensive area of oak-ash woodland and yew woodland is found in Coole and Garryland. Large demesne woodlands are found at Portumna Forest Park and Kilcornan Woods in Clarinbridge. In Connemara, Derryclare and Ballinahinch are important native woodland sites. Native woodland is a relatively uncommon habitat in County Galway. It is very important habitat for wildlife as it supports several birds, small mammals and invertebrates and a huge diversity of plant species.
Buildings and Bridges
Man-made, built structures in the urban or rural environment (eg. houses, farm buildings, bridges, walls, ruins and graveyards) can provide important habitat for a host of plants and animal communities. . Houses and other buildings are mostly important as nesting or roosting sites for birds or bats. Ten species of bat are found in Ireland and all are protected. Many roost in attics of houses or other buildings during the summer months. Barn owls nest in farm buildings and old abandoned castles or houses. Several mosses, lichens and other plants also grow on built surfaces.